The dark arts of Dan Wieken

The St. Paul-based illustrator brings new meaning to “show, don’t tell.”

Illustrator Dan Wieken at his studio in St. Paul on Wednesday. Wieken is part of an anti-Valentine's Day art show Saturday at Heart Salon in Northeast Minneapolis.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Illustrator Dan Wieken at his studio in St. Paul on Wednesday. Wieken is part of an anti-Valentine’s Day art show Saturday at Heart Salon in Northeast Minneapolis.

Emily Eveland

Dan Wieken’s art starts in the first-floor hallway of the Tilsner Artists’ Cooperative in St. Paul, with drawings of a deer skull, a woman with mutilated breasts and what Wieken referred to as “a deathripper night attack grim reaper with a sword in a graveyard.”

The plaque underneath his work reads:

“Dan Wieken. Raised in a rural, Minnesota woods shack. With a stick, dirt, and animal hides to mark on, this is the end result of an almost feral mind.”

It’s true. If you look closely, some of the finest details appear to be made of repetitive scratching of pen on paper.

On the floor above, a neon-colored door with a drawing made in his signature satanic style marks Wieken’s territory.

The green and pink paint continues along the wall of the apartment, serving as the backdrop for a few posters, skulls, religious portraits and a massive sailfish supposedly caught by Wieken’s great aunt and her friend Ernest Hemingway.

“That plaque used to be at Dixie’s on Grand,” Wieken said. “When they remodeled, I was like, ‘Well, that’s my family fish, so I want it.’”

Wieken, who stands at 6 feet 5 inches and looks 15 years younger than he claims to be, is a St. Paul-based illustrator whose work has been featured in galleries across the Twin Cities since 1995. This weekend, his latest work will be shown alongside artist Jessie McNally’s at the “Cross my heart and hope you die” Anti-Valentine’s Day Art Show at Heart Salon.

In addition to gallery shows, Wieken has illustrated fliers and T-shirts for hardcore band In Defence, anti-folk duo Terrordactyls and heavy metal band Cantharone. Lately, he’s been working nonstop with Mona Nunez on an upcoming collection of couture T-shirts.

Wieken is also the singer and guitarist of metal band Blood Folke, which is set to release its second album early this year.

Despite his public presence, Wieken is a self-described private person with little desire to talk about himself. His borderline self-defeating demeanor is refreshing, in a way.

Wieken’s apartment was a lot to take in. The first and most dominant characteristic was the smell of maple bacon, which started in the kitchen and trailed toward the living room. A naked, painted torso sat on a wheelchair leaning against the back wall. On the desk beside it, Wieken’s unfinished drawings were stacked on top of one another. The first was an illustrated collage of sorts, with skulls, naked women and pentagrams throughout.

When asked about the motifs in his work, Wieken walked across the room and picked up a cardboard box full of comic books.

“Do you know about underground comix at all? They were like a counterculture in the ’60s, and they were about pushing the envelope as far is it can go,” he said.

Lauren Gaffney, the violinist of Blood Folke, said the underground comix influence is clear in Wieken’s work.

“It’s kind of like comic style art, but he works in large format, so it gives a different focus to the characters,” she said. “They’re not panels; they’re not serials. There’s somewhat of a narrative … but I think they’re more fine art pieces.”

Wieken tossed the comics on the couch one by one. He paused when he got to a comic with Ed Gein on the cover, then walked to his bookshelf and held out an old paperback.

“I was really young, and it was this Ed Gein book that I ended up checking out from the library.”

He said his parents were upset by the choice, and it’s easy to see why. A quick flip through the book revealed the photo section in the middle with pictures of Gein wearing his skin mask and a naked, decapitated body hung by its feet.

“I also collect a [expletive] ton of occult books,” he said.

He began adding books about the devil to the pile. Wieken said his interest in the occult is more about aesthetics than the actual ideas behind it.

Part of it also stems from his love for black metal, and of course, he had books about that, too. “Lords of Chaos” and “Black Metal” joined the pile.

Wieken has published three small books of his own, including “The Booke of Logos,” in which he gives celebrities much-needed black metal makeovers; “The Petrified Catalogue,” which focuses on skulls, bones and the like; and “Gagged,” a pornographic take on terms like “chicken breast.” All three were sold on Uncivilized Books, but only “Gagged” is still in print.

When Wieken reached the end of his true crime, black metal and underground comic collections, it was clear he preferred answering questions in the form of images. When he wanted to describe something about his work, he’d show someone else’s.

“I honestly don’t know what to say,” he said. “I get weird and shy.”

It’s not that he’s quiet; he just doesn’t like talking about himself. He’d rather talk about his favorite bands and artistic predecessors than gloat.

In the end, Wieken’s truth comes through in his creations — each little line working with the rest to form his often dark, sometimes pornographic, but always enticing illustrations.


What: “Cross my heart and hope you die” Anti-Valentine’s Day Art Show
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Heart Salon, 1310 Second St. NE, Minneapolis
Cost: Free